Director: Michael Mfume
Year of release: Filmed in the early 90's (1991 or 1992) but not released on DVD until about 2003.
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 71 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Tagline: "It was supposed to be a weekend get-away, until the horror began!"
Also known as: The Weekend It Lives
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Ax ’Em is often regarded as one of the worst films around of any genre, an honour reinforced by an extremely low overall rating on the IMDB. One of the reasons for this is the bare bones story and the ultra-amateurish way in which it’s presented. In defence of the film it does state on the IMDB that it was originally intended as a comedy upon its creation back in the early nineties. It wasn’t until over ten years later that a company called York Entertainment picked up the rights to distribute the project on DVD. York made some changes however in an effort to market it more as a horror. Possibly the shortcomings of the story could be partially down to it being spliced together differently than originally intended during this genre change process. That said there’s a user review on the IMDB from someone who saw it in the theatre back in the 90’s in Baltimore and supposedly it was terrible even then. Maybe York did a lousy job of the edit resulting in a disjointed if not absent altogether story but they can’t have had much to work with in the first place.
With all that said for what it’s worth the story follows a group of friends as they leave the city behind for a few days break in a house situated in rural woodland. Belonging to the grandfather of one of the group, said house was the site of a tragedy thirteen years before. As the legend goes the occupant of the house at the time returned from work one fateful night to shoot his family to death. He then turned the gun on himself. This backstory incidentally is relayed to us in the worst way you could imagine by way of barely legible and mistake strewn title cards. They’re so bad they must have been put together this way on purpose as a joke. Anyway according to these cards, Harry, one of the sons of the nutcase managed to escape death that night and has at some point vowed to return to the property to claim his revenge. “Revenge” seems an odd choice of word with the perpetrator already dead but I think we’re to take it to mean he’ll go on a rampage of his own.
Of course as our group of friends rock up to the house Harry so chooses that moment to make his long awaited return.
Good points: *The character of Harry as the maniac on the loose works reasonably well for me in as far as I thought he came across as suitably intimidating. With the guy just wearing jeans and a lumberjack style shirt the clothes are sorely lacking in imagination. Facially however he looked unhinged and relatively scary I thought with a bit of effort made with the make-up. The lack of a mask is made up for with a patchy and mottled close to zombie like face of sorts which while not good by any means is significantly better than what I’ve seen from certain other films over the years. Tying in with the zombie like facial features is a shuffling walk to match.
Also like any good slasher villain he can absorb a lot of punishment and keep on ticking With that in mind I quite liked the ending.
*For what’s a micro budget movie in every sense of the phrase, $650 is a figure I saw somewhere, some of the gore effects aren’t too bad. There’s a couple of parts for example where people get struck in the face or hand with a machete . Though mainly only the aftermath of these incidents are shown I found the special effects to be okay.
Throwing in a skeleton as a prop which they did at one point also got a thumbs up from me.
Bad Points: *Production values are horrible, by far and away the worst I’ve ever come across. First and foremost the audio quality is appalling, so much so that it’s near impossible to make out a lot of what’s being said at times. In my case I think I was only able to make out about 50% of what was being said throughout the entire movie. As you can imagine this glaring issue makes the already poorly written and put together plot even more difficult to follow.
Picture quality is also questionable with it frequently fluctuating from fine to far too blurry. The DVD presentation is also badly letterboxed.
*There’s no where near enough on offer as far as the story goes. Whether that’s poor writing to begin with, a bad edit job later by York Entertainment, or more likely both we’re left in any case with an extremely sloppy end product which is largely incoherent. Bad audio aside this is where the lions share of the problems lie. Let’s take a closer look at some examples:
As far as I could understand I think there’s only supposed to be one house but it seems later as if there’s actually two. The two guys from the broken down car for example who go looking for help stumble upon and begin to explore one property which seems to be where the killer is. So you would assume this is the original house where the main characters have gathered seeing that only one house is alluded to early on. It seems however that this building being explored by the men from the car is a new location while the main players appear to be going about their business in a completely different house?
Before this confusion in the very early stages before the story even shifts to the wilderness there’s a couple of scenes that make little to no sense and have no relevance to anything. It’s just what appears to be random footage of street dancing followed later by some comedian doing an outside routine. So bad was the audio here I could barely make out a word the comic was saying.
During the black and white flashbacks there’s a shot of several kids huddled together outside the building talking amongst themselves. We aren’t privy to their conversation and nothing is explained as to who they are. The only thing I can come up with to even begin to explain it is that one of the kids is Harry (as a boy) being warned to stay away by some other neighbourhood kids before his Father comes home on the night of the murderous rampage. It’s so ineptly handled that the interpretation of it is going to be purely down to guesswork.
As a final example at one point we see two male characters running through the woods who by their conversation appear to have just encountered the killer but managed to escape. This is the first we’ve seen of them though so we haven’t seen them interact with the killer at all making the whole scene with them fleeing through the woods seem out of place and confusing.
*Characterisation is terrible as they’re all instantly forgettable to the point where they all just merge into one and become indistinguishable. This is compounded of course by the quality of the audio which means you can’t hear half the dialogue but even taking that out of the equation I don’t think anyone would come across as either likeable or relatable.
With the film initially intended to be a comedy many of the characters come across as buffoons with ridiculous dialogue (when it can be heard) to go along with it.
Like I say though the main issue is that no one stands out. I didn’t come out of it knowing the name of a single character which about says it all.
Verdict: After hearing of the film by reputation and skim reading a few reviews I was expecting this to be bad and boy did it ever live up to the billing. It’s something which really needs to be seen to be believed but I can say without reservation that’s its about as rotten as you could imagine. The nonsensical bare bones story (or lack of it) and the awful characters together with the shocking audio quality are the main stumbling blocks.
The only real positive I can pick out is that for my money the killer did have a little bit of a scary intimidating look or presence to him.
As to is this the worst slasher of all time? Well it very well could be, it’s easily amongst the worst I’ve seen anyway. If not for so much of the dialogue being unintelligible I think it may be slightly better than the likes of Camp Blood 5 and Return of the Boogeyman. As it is though with the audio being so atrocious the viewing experience is probably even worse here than it is for those two titles.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Old man: Killed with hatchet/axe.
2)Mother: Shot with shotgun (flashback).
3)Child: Shot with shotgun (flashback).
4)2nd Child: Shot with shotgun (flashback).
5)Mr Mason: Commits suicide with shotgun (flashback).
6)White guy from broken down car: Bashed on the head with telephone.
7)Man with glasses: Killed with baseball bat.
8)Woman: Felled with a machete blow to the head.
9)Woman #2: Killed with machete by staircase.
10)Man: Shot at the top of the staircase.
Notes: The body count might be a little inaccurate as I found the film so confusing at times to properly keep track. For example during the flashback it appeared as if another kid may be dead or at least what looks to be a corpse is held up at one stage in the area with the distinctive looking rocks. Maybe it was supposed to be a BBQ area?
The woman from the broken down car was possibly killed as well as she’s on the ground and helpless as the killer approaches.
I think the corpse that alerted the main party to the presence of the killer may have been the guy killed earlier with the phone but I wasn’t sure?
Review added on the 1st of December 2020.